Archives for category: law

Last week I discussed briefly how British crime drama is either gory and horrific or cosy. Personally, I veer towards the latter, purely because I feel there is enough to give you nightmares out there without inviting fictional ones. That’s not to say the former are bad, I’m sure many are brilliant, but I’m always curious as to what drives people to want to watch them.

Cosy has its problems as well though. Some of these are neatly exposed in The Coroner. The programme revolves around a solicitor-turned-coroner who has returned to her birthplace in a small town in Devon. Here, she investigates the cause of death. Except she actively intervenes in the cases, much to the polite frustration of her ex-boyfriend and now local detective, often pushing him to investigate accidents as murder etc. She even interviews suspects herself.

Here lies the first problem – anyone with a good knowledge of the law would splutter at the procedures being broken. I don’t have this knowledge, but even I eye roll at some of her actions. The problem is, as a coroner, she isn’t totally an amateur sleuth either like, say Father Brown or Jessica Fletcher. She does hold a professional capacity, but chooses to overstep it.

The second problem is the tone. Take one episode where an investigation into the murder of a reformed ex-convict turns into an investigation into people smuggling. There was actually something quite deep here to be said about the immigration system and the rights and wrongs of who we let in. Yet the whole thing was thrown off-balance by a sub-plot of the local community nicking cargo from a ship that ran aground, with the coroner’s own mother stealing a marble statue and a local shop owner, who actually had a secretly harrowing role to play, brazenly microwaving a pasty for the detective in some stolen goods.

Of course, there is arguments against these problems. Firstly, it is a daytime show. The people tuning in at that time aren’t wanting high-pressure interviews or challenging social themes. They want a fairly standard formula – obvious baddie we meet at the start doesn’t commit the crime but isn’t rewarded either, while a secret, more evil villain is found guilty. Obviously there are tweaks – sometimes the death is an accident – but the wheel isn’t being reinvented.

Secondly, there is light and darkness in real life. Displaying the charming oddities of a small town doesn’t necessarily detract from some of the bad stuff that happens there. If anything, it is reassuring that, unlike in Broadchurch, we can have a bad thing happen in a tiny community and it not destroy everything.

Because that is the function that cosy crime serves: comfort. The reassurance that the justice system works, that most people are essentially good, that communities can smile at the darkest times. This genre will never be the darling of the critics, but perhaps its enduring popularity is that people will always want to see simple black and white scenarios. At a time when there seems to be ever more shades of grey, maybe that is a good thing.tth

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It always amazes me how many different legal dramas and police procedurals America can produce. Here in the UK we either have ‘cosy crime’, ‘troubled DI/DCI solves crime of the week’ or ‘small community shocked to the core’. And we barely set foot in a courtroom.

But in America you are spoilt for choice. Navy cops, forensic teams, courtroom dramas, amateur detectives, you name it, America does it. You want a social commentary? They do that. Or do you just want to see cool explosions and high-stake car chases? They do that too.

Now we have Bull, set in the world jury psychology. Dr Bull runs a team specialising in manipulating juries into reaching decisions he clients want, all while lawyers are sceptical of his ability. It helps that, so far of the episodes I’ve seen, that he is on the good guys side, so any mind-bending is well deserved. Forcing people to recognise their gender bias or asking idiosyncratic questions are just some of his techniques.

He has a team supporting him – the computer hacker, the gay-yet-tough stylist, the smart-mouthed ex-lawyer and others. So far we only have a bit of their backgrounds dribbling out. No doubt there are some big emotional stories to be played out over the episodes, but I do hope these remain I side show.

I say that because the enjoyment of this show, for me at least, is the pseudo-science talks. I say pseudo-science, this could all be real science, but I don’t know. Anyway, it fascinates me how breaking down some biographical details of the jurors and building a profile of them is so influential. It is both brilliant and creepy how predictable we are if someone can just get a few bits of information on us.

It does sit slightly oddly between two stools though. The extra-ordinary nature of the cases means that it could easily fall into bubble-gum territory. Yet they do seem to have a social conscience about them that means that there is more to the plots than simply defending the innocent. I’m not saying it’s as deep as The Good Wife, but thinking it is just a bit of fluff is unfair.

Overall, I would say this is a solid show and a pleasing enough way to pass an hour. I find myself liking it more and more and having my cynicism eroded. And that is by no means a bad thing.

I currently feel spilt for choice in terms of TV. Bar Saturday nights, which rarely show anything of quality in my opinion and have therefore become sky+ nights, I have at least a solid hours’ worth of great telly.

Even amongst this packed field, there are some highlights. Near the top of the list is legal drama The Good Fight, the spin-off from The Good Wife. I love this show for the same reasons I loved its predecessor: it is smartly written and well plotted with characters that are three-dimensional from the off, even relative bit part players. It isn’t afraid to engage with topical issues or to wear its liberal heart on its sleeve.

The show primarily follows Diane Lockhart and Maia Rindell, two lawyers at opposing points of their career but both impacted by a Ponzi scheme: Diane the victim who must put her retirement on hold and become a partner at an African-American dominated legal firm, Maia the daughter of the supposed creator who is starting her career at the same firm, plagued by rumours and trolls.

Whilst these are over-arching plots, which will now doubt move closer to centre stage as the season progresses, it is the individual cases and some of the sub-plots that really elevate this show. The intricacies of the legal system fascinate me, as opposing sides battle for their interpretation to be held valid or some obscure law that was never repealed to come to their aid. Likewise, the latest subplot, Mike Kresteva targeting the firm for it pursuing police brutality cases, is a further layer. There are so many spinning plates but the team behind the show never let one drop.

Besides Dianne Lockhart, there is a smattering of returning cast members. Cush Jumbo is back as Lucca Quinn, more spiky and whip-smart than ever. Marissa Gold, a bit-part player in Wife, is given a meatier place in the cast here, which I think is great, as she always brought extra zing to the few episodes she was in to the mother show. No doubt others will appear, in some cases maybe only briefly.

Of course, there is the question of what happened to Alicia Florrick, the wife of the original series. We have had hints – she doesn’t appear to be working in the law anymore for a start. Whether she is being primed by Eli for politics or is merely chasing Jason still is unknown. I’m not sure if this blank space helps or hinders Fight. Maybe the writers will throw us a bone and drop a few more hints.

Regardless, it is a pleasure to watch something that is well crafted and willing to grant its audience some intelligence. When something is this good, you do wonder, why isn’t every show trying to reach this level?

Have you ever watched a show and, despite disliking so many aspects of it, continued watching, even on to the next season? It could be that the plot is genuinely gripping, or that you are interested in one particular character’s story arc, even if it is not the lead one. Sometimes it could just be habit or the comfort of the known- why risk something new that could be worse?

Most of the above applies to How to Get Away with Murder. Let’s start with why I dislike aspects of it, aspects of which probably cover what I have written previously about it. Firstly, I despise the vast majority of the characters. The students all appear to thin-skinned drama queens, whose sole mission seems to be make things worse until some freaky lightbulb moment occurs and they save the day. Even these though just spin off into a bigger problem.

Of course, that is nothing compared to my hatred of Annalise Keating. I find it odd that a major network drama is so dependent on someone who is impossible to warm to. The same problem is perhaps found in Frank Underwood in House of Cards, but at least he is a genuine anti-hero. Annalise is just a tetchy control freak.

The attempts to make her more sympathetic are confusing. I am currently in the second half of the second season, where we are leading to the build-up of her losing her child. Obviously, this is a traumatic moment, yet does little to counteract the coldness of her in the present day. Likewise, a supposed bisexual past and sexy dancing in the club feel tacked on to a character who, if was more well-rounded at the start, seems to lack depth.

There are signs though that the problem, at least with some the cast members, is being fixed. Connor and Laurel in particular are beginning to show something genuine about them. Connor is softening emotionally whilst also being a surprising moral compass, whilst Laurel is showing a self-awareness and an ability to look outwards lacking from the others. Even the rest are beginning to form a cohesive group, increasingly wary of their boss and aware of her fallibility.

Of course, the plot seems as silly as ever. Killing a DA and then pinning it on your client in order to get to the perpetrator of the murder that you were originally defending your client stretches the bounds of realism to the point where they nearly snap. And yet, you want to see if everything can be pulled off.

Weirdly, it is when this show tries to form an emotional heart, the thing it most lacks, that it veers off course. You can’t help feeling that Annalise would be better off served going full Underwood and throwing off her emotional past to drive forward and win, if not love, some genuine respect from the viewer. As it is, this show is fun to watch, but hard to engage with.

In the latest instalment of ‘Matthew gets round to watching something after months of hearing how good it is’, I finally settled down to watch How to Get Away with Murder. It is a perfect fit for me in many regards. For a start, it is a legal drama, one of my favourite genres. Also, there is a mystery subplot, one which moves us between two timeframes. Oh, and the lead character is a strong, well-rounded woman. Tick, tick and tick.

Yet, three episodes into season 1, I finding this squarely sitting in the ‘I like it’ category and not the ‘I love it, let’s watch the next episode now’. Surprised at my disappointment, I decided to trace the reasons for it.

I will start with the reasons I like it. The cases are suitably odd – millionaire framed for his wife’s killing, soccer mom has past life as terrorist etc. I always like to see how the legal mind works its way through puzzles such as these. Whether it is missing pieces of evidence or loopholes in the law, the mental gymnastics that are performed are brilliant to watch.

The mystery plot is also solid, although anybody who has watched similar shows before will probably see most of the twists well signposted. Desperate Housewives, in its early seasons at least, did it better. Even so, it is an enjoyable enough ride.

So if the plot is working well enough, what’s the problem? For me, it’s the characters. Whilst it always takes time to add layers to people, I find the chosen five students to all be irritating and/or bland. Wes, in particular, bores me, which makes it all the more frustrating that he is being marked as the emotional heart of the show. Out of the five, only Connor saves them, and that is because I have a soft spot for LGBT characters.

Annalise herself is also frustrating. I feel as if we have seen the ball-breaker legal woman before (see my thoughts on Suits last week). In the early episodes, when she is emotional about her husband’s potential role in the murder, I’m not sure if she is genuine or merely stringing people along. The rule of thumb for me is that you are allowed to take other characters for fools, but only do it to viewers if you have something brilliant lined up to make it worthwhile, and so far it doesn’t. Or maybe I am missing something obvious.

One final thought does strike me, which is that maybe part of the problem is that I am watching this through Netflix on my laptop, where the temptation is to open a second window and do some shopping or social networking at the same time. Not having my undivided attention is perhaps costing the show, although I did the same with The Good Wife and had no such problem with investing in it.

I will stick with the show, as I feel that perhaps my character judgements are too harsh for now. But it hasn’t claimed a special place in my TV temple. Quite frankly, it would have to do something quite spectacular to do so.

I have often debated on this blog whether a show should continue once its original premise has been fulfilled. Revenge seemed to be resolved enough after season 3 to make a fourth unnecessary, with plotlines truly jumping the shark. Ditto Once Upon A Time, which must surely be running out of ways to make Regina and Mr Gold evil On the other hand, Grimm has managed to make the season 5 story arc last long enough to go into season 6, although I still feel its swan song is approaching.

So where does that leave Suits now that Mike has been found guilty of legal fraud and is serving time for it? Now, I have to admit to bias here, as Suits is genuinely one of the shows that I genuinely love and spend a lot of time breathlessly talking about to others. So naturally I want it to continue, but only whilst there is enough breath in its body for it not to need life support.

In my opinion, it is doing surprisingly well. I initially found the prison scenes a distraction from the glamour of the law firm, but the espionage and counter-espionage is as present there as in the courtroom. Any thoughts that there would be no place left for tension can be banished, as Mike must both stay out of trouble and land someone else in it, whilst battling loyalties.

I find Pearson Specter Litt as fascinating as before, despite it being wounded. Most shows would have had Harvey strike out on his own and focus solely on helping Mike and building his own firm from the ground up, but The Good Wife stole the march on the virtuous rebuild, so instead we see Harvey, Jessica and Louis going into battle together. Jessica had always been a bit too much of an ice queen compared to say, Donna, but this season has shown a vulnerable streak, yet one that isn’t so much a chink of her armour but instead one that is an extra weapon. Her flip reverse on the pro bono idea of Rachel’s was a good example of this. It was also a relief, as I still find Rachel the most frustrating character, so desperate to be independent and sassy, yet so in the shadow of everyone around her.

So yes, Suits is pulling off that rare trick of going beyond its brief but still working. Perhaps that’s because it has always been slowly building to being more than the Mike and Harvey show. Even if it has sometimes relegated the other characters, it has never dismissed them completely, and each has had moments to shine. One day, of course, it will stop, and I will miss it. But like those that come out of a mid-life crisis energised as opposed to obliterated, Suits is extending its lifespan through canny plotlines and a smart recentering of the action.

I must confess to not being a binge watcher. I think my brain is programmed in such a way to regard TV as a treat, something that is earned. Even on my days off, I have too much of a list of little things to do, as well as a social life that is enough to stop me being a hermit, to watch entire seasons of shows back to back. That doesn’t mean I can’t get some good TV watched – I can plough through a good 3 or 4 episodes of a decent American drama a week. Coupled with the fact that I still watch a lot of shows the episode the old-fashioned way of once a week, I never tear through seasons like so many others of my generation.

This is way I am only just starting season 5 of The Good Wife. Don’t get me wrong, I think I’ve made good progress, it’s just I know people who would zap through the 6 seasons on Netflix in the course of less than a month. Instead, I pootle along.

Having said that, there is something to be said for drip-feeding yourself good quality shows. Alicia’s rise to partner would seem frantically paced if taking place over a month; give yourself a good part of a year and you are able to drink in everything so much more. And it is a show worth drinking in.

For a start, it is smart, and getting smarter. It neatly and organically evolves from its ‘wronged-wife-goes-back-to-work’ premise to become a tale of political intrigue, office politics and, old chestnuts, love and friendship. I have adored seeing Cary Agos move from rival, to enemy, to good friend to Alicia Florrick, with no doubt more shape shifting to come. The chemistry between everyone almost literally crackles, a neat trick for a show that isn’t scared of layers.

My biggest love though, is for Eli Gold. Alan Cumming plays him so perfectly. Arrogant and with a malicious streak, Gold is also a surprising conduit for the show’s lighter moments. The scenes between Cumming and Margulies are amongst the most sublime you could see: unstoppable energy hitting an immovable object, whilst behind it all, a respect that has grown into a friendship.

See? Going through all these subtle shifts in power too quickly and you lose the beauty of what is being made. Binge watching is great if you intend to watch something disposable. However, if you want to really enjoy a show, slow the pace down. It is the respect some shows deserve.